The anguished father of 7-year-old Lapana Tupou is in Aitutaki awaiting any word of his lost son.
Lapana was reported missing from the inter-island vessel Lady Moana early on Wednesday evening. The ship turned and retraced its route, as emergency services were called.
Police were alerted at 6.18pm, and immediately scrambled police patrol boat Te Kukupa and a flotilla of Aitutaki fishing and tourist boats. Air Rarotonga sent a plane, to conduct an aerial grid search.
Back on the island of Rakahanga, where Lapana and his dad are from, one of his aunts on said they received the alarming and distressing phone call from his father on Wednesday evening.
Rakahanga, whch is traditionally called Tapuahua, had a population of just 83 people at the last census. There are only 16 households listed in the phone book. Its nearest neighbour, Manihiki, is 42 kilometres away.
The aunt said Lapana was travelling with his father to Rarotonga. He called to let the family know: the little boy was nowhere to be found on board.
When the alarm was raised that Lapana was missing, the vessel re-traced its course for several hours until nightfall.
Cook Islands Police spokesperson Trevor Pitt said up to 16 Aitutaki boats had joined the search effort.
“The local boats returned from the search in the afternoon,” he said last night. “Te Kukupa remained at its search duties.
“The search is continuing.”
The search is run by the Cook Islands Police Service, in a coordinated effort between Rarotonga and and Aitutaki.
The Rescue Coordination Centre in New Zealand assisted with the modelling of the large search area, which was determined from the positions the Lady Moana captain was able to give as to where they had been when the boy was last seen – and when it was discovered he was missing.
Lady Moana stayed out at sea on Wednesday night. Last night, the Ports Authority released the ship with authorisation to continue its 14-hour journey to Rarotonga. The ship, which is owned by Taio Shipping, was expected to arrive this morning so its passengers could disembark.
Hundreds of people have been posting their thoughts and prayers for the family on the Cook Islands News Facebook page and other social media.